Sens. Ellie Kinnaird and Howard Lee and Reps. Joe Hackney and Verla Insko, all Orange County Democrats, met with council members and officials to discuss potential legislative issues for the coming year. Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf chaired the meeting.
Council members asked the legislators how much support the town would get in a fight over UNC's Master Plan.
"Let's say there is an impasse and the University goes to the legislature to ask for town regulatory authority to be taken," council member Flicka Bateman asked the legislators. "Can we count on you to support the town?"
Lee said the legislators should wait and see how the negotiations between the town and UNC work out. "At this point, I think we should keep our eyes open and our mouths shut and watch what happens," Lee said.
Several council members said they are concerned with the lack of specific information coming from the University about the effects of its development on the town. "Our sense is that UNC has looked at campus very carefully and not looked at the ripple in the town," said council member Bill Strom.
Council members also told the lawmakers they are worried about the size of the development UNC is proposing in the Master Plan.
Waldorf said the plan would result in about 5 million square feet of new building space and an additional 8 million square feet at the Horace Williams site, where Strom said there could be 35,000 jobs created in eight or nine years.
But council members did not press legislators to make a commitment immediately. Waldorf said she simply wanted Chapel Hill's representatives to understand the magnitude of the project.
Kinnaird said the negotiations in Chapel Hill are important because, with the $2.5 billion bond for the 16 UNC campuses, development will be an issue statewide.
Waldorf said she attended a meeting of mayors of N.C. university towns and cities Jan. 30. At a similar meeting last week, the mayors of the 14 municipalities that host UNC-system schools formed their own caucus in the League of Municipalities, a statewide conference of mayors.
Council members also asked legislators about a possible loss of municipal funds because of the state budget crisis. Because municipalities do not have the authority to collect sales, utility franchise or intangible taxes, the state collects those taxes and reimburses the town for some of them.
Town Manager Cal Horton said he is afraid the town will send the money and not receive reimbursement. "I'm afraid we might get the first half of the deal. That would mean a $700,000 cut for us."
Hackney said keeping reimbursement funds is the governor's decision at this point in the fiscal year. After the meeting, he also said the Orange County delegation could fight for town revenues in the future. "There has been some talk about phasing out those reimbursements in the next few years. We said we would fight this."
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